When asked, ‘So, what have you read recently?’, I usually mumble something about not having had much time, or – only marginally better – maybe having achieved the grand total of one chapter in a book I’ve had on the go for three months…
Reasons for not reading
Why is it that I haven’t made time for reading? I think there are two main reasons:
- Over-thinking. I studied English Literature (and French) at university. Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t stop me being able to read for pleasure – but it has left me with a terrible habit of needing to fully absorb, digest, and understand every last point before moving on to the next sentence/page/chapter. This means it can take me a veeeery loooong time to get through a text – and this makes it difficult to maintain any kind of momentum with my reading, as I feel I’m wading through treacle.
- Guilt. It feels like an indulgence! Something I’d love to do more of, but can’t, because I should be doing other more productive things instead. This has got worse since I started freelancing: now that I’m wholly responsible for generating my own income, I feel that every minute of every day should be spent on something that could lead to work. The idea of settling down for an hour to get lost in a book feels like something I simply can’t justify doing.
What a dreadful state of affairs for a book lover to get herself into, eh?
Reasons for reading
And so one day I sat down and gave myself a talking to. I reminded myself of all the reasons why reading books is one of the best things I could be doing with my time. To pick just a handful, and in no particular order:
- It sparks new ideas of my own.
- It keeps me informed about the world.
- It makes me feel I’ve treated myself / enjoyed some ‘me time’.
- It exposes me to different uses of language.
- It gives me an insight into how other people think and feel.
- and much, much more.
Last, but not least, reading makes me realise that life can be different; that the life I’m currently living is just one path; and that there are many more paths open to me if I want to take them. Reading about other characters and their life choices reminds me that I too have options, and can act in a multitude of ways in any given situation.
- Would I follow the dwarves to the Lonely Mountain, stay safely at home, or join battle?
- Would I give in to the power of Big Brother, revolt against it, or dope myself up?
- Would I accept Mr Darcy’s proposal, Mr Collins’, or remain unmarried?
Once I started thinking like this, I realised that, far from being an indulgence, reading was in fact a vital necessity. I’d got into a rut, trudging along familiar tracks, feeling as though I wasn’t in control of my own life’s direction – and I wanted to break free, wrest back my autonomy, and start striding out on paths I’d positively chosen for myself.
I realised that the best way to do this was to start reading in earnest again. Reading would show me the possibilities and choices open to me, and give me a much broader field of experience to draw on for making changes.
And so the seeds of my 24-book challenge were sown…
The 24-book challenge
The specific books chosen for this challenge were an unintended consequence of an advent calendar I’d published on my old website, Curious Pathways. I’d decided to run a countdown of books from the past 24 decades of literature, and (fairly randomly) selected one book per decade. I then realised that this was a pretty good overview of the history of literature – and a good place to start my new reading habit.
I will be reading one book per fortnight, which takes me more or less to the end of the year, and I’ll publish a ’round-up’ post right at the end. I will blog about the books in reverse chronological order: the most recent first, and then going back in time.
My specific aim is to tell you how each book affects my worldview and what changes I intend to make to my life as a result of reading it. I won’t be making notes as I read, as I want to make this as ‘real’ a scenario as possible: I want to read each book in a normal way and then see what stays with me when I’ve finished.
I hope that, by doing this, I’ll be able to show you the difference a book can make to your life – not in a theoretical, academic way, but in a way that can genuinely help you change things for the better.
Are you ready for the ride…?